Two weeks ago Crikey reported on the tensions in suburban Australia over water use. One of the key issues raised was wastefulness in industry. Given that households, which account for 8-10% of total annual water consumption, are in the grip of water restrictions, readers wanted to know why industry is not being held to account in the same way.

It appears that this perception may not be accurate. Sure, Australian industry might have a long way to go before it can call itself water efficient, but there is evidence to suggest it’s moving in the right direction.

Australia-wide, water use has gone down in the five years between 2000 to 2005, a drop largely attributable to savings in the agricultural sector.

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14,989 gigalitres


Forestry and Fishing









Electricity and gas



Water supply



Other industries










Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

While it’s true that the drought has meant there is less water around to use, the above table shows that agriculture has cut its water use by 19% to 2005, households by less than 8%.

Further, the ABS pointed out the savings between 2002–03 and 2004–05 were partly a result of “a shift towards the use of more efficient irrigation methods.”

The need to use water more wisely has also given rise to programs, administered by state governments and local water authorities, which target Australia’s largest water users.

In Victoria, the Pathways to Sustainability program now targets all users of more than 10 megalitres, around 1,500 companies, with projected savings to reach an extra 13 gigalitres by 2015. And just today, Victorian environment minister John Thwaites has added his voice to the debate, tackling the “myths” about Victoria’s farmers and their profligate use of water.

In October 2004, the NSW government released the Metropolitan Water Plan for Sydney, from which came the Every Drop Counts (EDC) business program. At September last year it had 339 members who claimed to be saving 24 million litres of water a day between them. In particular, Sydney Water has recently publicised a water recycling project with BlueScope Steel in Port Kembla which will save 7.3 billion litres per year.

This of course is only a snapshot, but it raises the question: why are households all het up about industrial water use and abuse?

It may boil down to a simple matter of communication. A spokesman for the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment told Crikey his organisation doesn’t spend time and money publicising their work with industry to the general public. Those resources, he said, were better spent on the work of saving water.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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